XII. Transformers for everyone in the 21st century
As the Beast Machines Transformers
TV series and toy line continued during 1999-2000, the storyline made some controversial changes to TF history, but it also brought back mechanical vehicle alt-forms for the robots. The heroic Maximals fought evil "Vehicons" that transformed from robots to Cybertronian war machines, the first return to vehicle Transformers in four years.
This change not only created a demand for a return to the traditional vehicle Transformers, but also carried over the increased ball-joint articulation from the Beast Wars
toys. In Japan, the 2000 anime series Transformers: Car Robots
embraced this change, moving the storyline back to earth and mixing the Transmetals Predacons with updated vehicle-transforming Autobots. Hasbro abandoned a Beast Machines
follow-up series called "Transtech", and instead decided to bring Transformers: Car Robots
to the US in 2001 dubbed and relabeled as Transformers: Robots In Disguise
. Many American TF fans who had never been exposed to the more kid-oriented Japanese series of TV shows found the middle-school-aged protagonists and typical Japanese slapstick comedy elements of TF: RID
a bit jarring. However the RID toy series
was popular enough for Hasbro and Takara to partner together for a continuation of the Transformers franchise in both the US and Japan.
The next three Transformers animated series, Armada
(2004), and Cybertron
(2005), were all Hasbro/Takara co-productions that had little or no connections to previous Transformer storylines beyond character names and basic appearances. In addition to the toys relating to these anime series, Hasbro released a general Transformers Universe
toy line in 2003 that featured various repaints and reissues from Robots In Disguise
as well as the three newer series.
The first commercially-released toy of the giant evil Transformer Unicron, sold as part of the Armada
series in 2003
While these early 2000s TV shows continued using kid-oriented anime styles and character types, older Transformers fans were able to read some more mature G1-based storylines in the Transformers
comic book series started by Dreamwave Productions in 2002 and continued by IDW Publishing in 2005. Some of these comic series involved crossovers with the G.I. Joe
characters, similar to those published by Marvel Comics in the 1980s.
Art from the Dreamwave Productions Transformers comic
The current Transformers toy lines were not limited to what was featured in the cartoons or comic books however, and some fantastically creative toy series were created for the collector market alone. The 2003 Transformers toy series called Binaltech
in Japan and Alternators
in the US introduced realistic 1/24 scale licensed reproductions of actual cars and trucks with highly complicated transforming processes. The US versions of these toys lacked some elements present in the Japanese releases, like diecast parts and weapons. Despite poor sales in the US leading to the discontinuation of the Alternators line in early 2006, the toy series remains a favorite with older collectors and Transformers toy customizers.
Siverstreak, Hound and Optimus Prime from the Alternators / Binaltech toy series
2004 marked the 20th anniversary of the Transformers
franchise. While there had already been re-releases of selected classic commemorative G1 Transformers toys in both Japan and the US since 2002, Takara introduced a special treat for collectors in the form of the Masterpiece Series Convoy, released in the US as the 20th Anniversary Optimus Prime. This foot-tall, ultra-detailed toy with diecast parts represents the ultimate fusion of complex transformation elements with the original G1 cartoon aesthetic. The "Masterpiece" series has continued yearly ever since with the introduction of new releases and repaints based on Optimus Prime, Starscream, Megatron and most recently Grimlock.
Masterpiece Edition Optimus Prime, generally considered to be the greatest Transformers toy of all time.
The continuing nostalgic desire for the G1 Transformers lead to the 2006 Classics
toy line, featuring updated versions of G1 characters with more detailed transforming designs and increased articulation. The Classics
line has since become incorporated with the ongoing Transformers Universe
toy line. Also in 2006, Hasbro introduced the Star Wars Transformers
toy line, where famous vehicles from the Star Wars
saga are given a transforming robot re-imagining. The "Crossover" Transformers series continued in 2008 with Marvel superhero robots featured in the Transformers Crossovers: Marvel
Transformers Classics 2006 toys
An oddball 2006 spinoff from the Binaltech Transformers toy line in Japan resulted in one of the most disturbing Transformers series to date: Transformers: Kiss Players
. The idea behind this collectors toy series was that the Transformers receive their powers and transformation abilities from being kissed by cute anime girls. This already strange concept was made even more creepy by the fact that the girls depicted on the packaging for the toys had a distinctly underage sexual "lolicon" look about them.
2006 Transformers: Kiss Players
-- "Why don't you have a seat right over there?"
2007 of course brought the release of the Micheal Bay-directed live action blockbuster film Transformers
, featuring radically changed designs for the robots and cutting-edge CGI special effects. Despite mediocre reviews from critics and some fan controversy surrounding the "re-imagined" Transformers, the movie was a smash success ($319 million US, $708 million worldwide total), and the 2009 sequel releases in June. The movie-Transformer toy designs have taken their place on toy store shelves next to the more traditional Transformers toys, as well as highly stylized toys from the 2008 Transformers Animated
toy line. The Transformers toy series has definitely regained its past popularity as its 25th anniversary takes place in 2009.
Next: The present and future of transforming robots in Japan and the US